If we were to take action cinema as an accurate reflection of everyday life, kidnapping would be nonexistent. Terrorists, gangsters and hardened criminals the world over would come out of screenings of such films as Taken, Commando or dozens of other action movies, and realise that not only does kidnapping not work as a means of extorting money, but also that dabbling in it is tantamount to suicide.
Those criminals would also realise that fathers are the most dangerous individuals on the planet. Action movies are full of dads who are adept with light and heavy weaponry, and also seething with barely-controllable anger. Perhaps venting the pent-up aggression that becoming a parent brings – and maybe also the irritation of waiting to use the bathroom every morning – the fathers of action cinema are almost always engaged in missions of explosive vengeance, and in every exception, it’s the bad guys who fare the worst.
Here, then, is our attempt to bring together as many of these angry dads as we can think of. And because Taken 2’s out soon, let’s begin with one of action cinema’s definitive angry dads, played by Mr Liam Neeson…
Bryan Mills – Taken/Taken 2
Angriest outburst: “It’s a flesh wound. But if you don’t get me what I need, the last thing you’ll see before I make your children orphans is the bullet I put between her eyes!”
Kim was just an ordinary 17-year-old girl who dreamed of becoming a pop star. But then she went to Paris.
Kidnapped by a vicious gang of Albanian gangsters, who hope to sell her to the highest bidder in a weird underground auction for randy, presumably sociopathic billionaires, Kim’s desire to see U2 in concert has left her and her virginity in a perilous situation.
Fortunately, her father is retired CIA agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) – and he’s a very angry dad. Vowing that he’ll “tear down the Eiffel Tower” if he has to, Bryan sets off on the hunt for his daughter, which involves torturing, shooting and snapping the necks and wrists of every last suspicious-looking man in Paris.
Over the course of the movie, Bryan kills 35 people in order to get to his daughter – though strangely, this isn’t how we can tell he’s an angry dad. No, it’s his almost Shakespearean way with words which makes him such a memorably pissed-off patriarch – that, and his habit of telling the bad guys what he’s going to do before he kills them.
“I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you,” he rasps over the phone to a lousy kidnapper, in a scene which has already passed into action flick legend.
“You either give me what I need or this switch will stay on until they turn the power off for lack of payment on the bill,” Bryan says to a man he decides to electrocute.
Taken 2 sees the relatives of the first film’s gangsters take revenge on Bryan, this time in Istanbul. Unsurprisingly, Bryan’s loved ones are in danger, and no, Bryan isn’t at all happy about it. One of cinema’s angriest dads is about to get a whole lot angrier.
Colonel John Matrix – Commando
Angriest outburst: “I eat Green Berets for breakfast. And right now, I’m very hungry!”
The beefiest of angry dads, Colonel John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is almost blissfully happy when we first meet him in Commando. Retired from the army, he enjoys a peaceful retirement with his daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano), who feeds wild deer while he carries logs in and out of a nearby forest.
It’s a quiet existence. Almost too quiet. Then, a group of evil mercenaries bursts into their secluded home, kidnapping Jenny and threatening to kill her if John doesn’t carry out an assassination on their behalf. And lo, John joins the angry dad club.
The rest of Commando is essentially a succession of creative murders, as Matrix launches bullets, rockets, and in one spectacular sequence, a shed full of gardening implements at various goons in uniform. Blood flows, limbs fly, and heads drop off. Matrix uproots a telephone box with a man still inside it, drops another man off a cliff, and kills Vernon Wells’ Bennett by flinging a metal pipe at him.
Eventually, Matrix is reunited with his daughter, giving him some time to have a cup of tea and calm himself down.
John McClane – Die Hard 4.0
Angriest outburst: “I could come and find you, kick your ass and throw you out of your own party. What do you think about that, dickhead?”
In retrospect, it’s quite remarkable how long it took the world’s terrorists to kidnap one of John McClane’s kids. His wife found herself in peril twice – trapped in a building with Alan Rickman in the first Die Hard, then stuck on a plane low on fuel in Die Hard 2 – but his children remained safely out of reach. That is, until Die Hard 4.0, in which Lucy McClane (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has grown into a young woman who’s just as headstrong and stubborn as her father.
John demonstrates his reluctance to let his daughter grow up gracefully (a familiar action movie staple, as we’ll soon see) in a scene where he hauls Lucy’s boyfriend out of a car and screams in his face. Inevitably, Lucy’s kidnapped by the bad guys later on, and becomes another pawn in the plans of computer infrastructure-wrecking terrorist Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant).
John, the epitome of the ornery action hero, goes into full-on angry dad mode, and having survived an attack from a US fighter jet, heads to a nearby warehouse for the final confrontation with Gabriel. Unfortunately, Die Hard 4.0’s PG-13 rating meant that McClane wasn’t allowed to be as sweary as he was in his earlier adventures, and his immortal “Yippee-ki-yay” catchphrase is drowned out by the sound of a gunshot. Lucy’s kidnapping leaves McClane more recklessly angry than ever, with our hero even shooting himself in the shoulder to claim victory. Now that’s fatherly devotion.
Harry Tasker – True Lies
Angriest outburst: “You’re fired!”
James Cameron went from science fiction to pure action in True Lies, which gave Arnold Schwarzenegger the chance to play the particularly hefty counter-terrorist agent Harry Tasker. The movie’s lower age rating meant that Tasker couldn’t despatch villains with quite the same demented abandon that he did in Commando, but when his daughter Dana (Eliza Dushku) is kidnapped by wild-eyed terrorist Salim Abu Aziz (Art Malick), he quickly works himself back up into a murderous frenzy.
After foiling a plot to blow up America with stolen nuclear weapons, Tasker takes to the skies in a Harrier Jump Jet to retrieve his daughter. Wiping out an entire building full of bad guys in a typical Cameron-orchestrated set-piece, Aziz’s campaign ends in an explosive, Wile E Coyote-style death, which involves a sidewinder missile, a backpack and a helicopter. And with that, another daughter is saved, and another angry dad is placated, at least for a while.
Paul Kersey – the Death Wish series
Angriest outburst: “You believe in Jesus? Well, you’re gonna meet him.”
The longevity of the Death Wish franchise is remarkable not just because of Charles Bronson’s age (he was 73 by the time he made Death Wish V: The Face Of Death in 1994), but also because its makers had to keep introducing different people whose deaths Bronson could avenge.
In the first film, Bronson’s protagonist Paul Kersey was an architect and pacifist (he was a conscientious objector in the Korean war) prompted to go on a killing spree following a brutal attack on his family. With his wife dead and his daughter in hospital, Kersey blasted his way to vengeance, setting a template which would be reused again and again over the course of its sequels – in Death Wish II, he avenged the murder of his daughter, in the third film, he avenges the death of his old friend Charley, and so on.
Although Kersey’s undoubtedly an angry dad, he’s one of the more restrained characters on this list. He only occasionally gets into physical combat, and seldom loses his temper; instead, he roams the streets with an air of eerie calm. But like a snake coiled and ready to attack, Kersey always has a gun to hand, ready to shoot the next would-be mugger in the face.
President James Marshall – Air Force One
Angriest outburst: “Get off my plane!”
Air Force One proved that, when provoked, even a US president can become an angry dad. While flying back from an engagement in Moscow, President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) has his posh private plane hijacked by Russian terrorists, led by Egor Korshunov (Gary Oldman). With his wife and daughter also on board, Marshall springs into action, reviving some of the combat techniques he learned in Vietnam.
With Oldman’s ranting hijacker waving his gun around and making threats, Ford plays it cool – it’s only from the steely glint in his eye and the set of his jaw that we can tell that, beneath his composed exterior, he’s every bit as angry as the other dads on this list.
Fun fact: Air Force One was particularly admired by former president Bill Clinton, though he found some of the film’s events somewhat far-fetched.
Sean Archer – Face/Off
Angriest outburst: “Die! Please God, die!”
FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) becomes an angry dad within the first few moments of John Woo’s terrific identity-swap action movie, Face/Off. Targeted by terrorist Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage), a bullet intended to strike Archer’s heart misses and kills his son instead. Thereafter, Archer and Troy are engaged in a deadly dance, which usually involves guns.
In a twist to the usual atrocity and revenge scenario, Troy is sent into a coma during the first of several hectic action scenes. With a bomb ticking somewhere in Los Angeles, Archer undergoes a hi-tech procedure which swaps his own face with Troy’s. He hopes to fool Troy’s brother into giving away the position of the bomb, but naturally, things go wrong. Troy wakes up from his coma, assumes Archer’s identity, and soon takes control of the FBI.
Archer (now played by Nicolas Cage) is therefore presented with the unenviable task of convincing his wife and daughter that he’s their respective father and husband, and not the other chap who’s wearing his face. It’s all as batty and over-the-top as it sounds, with some fantastic performances from Travolta and Cage. Beneath all the mugging and goofy humour, they manage to convey a pair of men who desperately want to kill each other. When Cage’s version of Archer hisses, “Die! Please God Die!” as he holds a gun to Troy’s throat, you believe every word. He may have one of the worst haircuts of any dad in action cinema, but Sean Archer’s undoubtedly one of the most convincingly angry.
Mason Storm – Hard To Kill
Angriest outburst: “I’m gonna take you to the bank, Senator Trent. To the blood bank!”
Steven Seagal has the kind of face that always looks angry and just a little quizzical. In his 1990 opus, Hard To Kill, the martial arts star applied his lizard-like brand of acting to the character Mason Storm, who had his own particularly compelling reasons to be angry.
An LA cop with some damning evidence against the mob, Storm’s attacked in his home by a group of assassins, who shoot Storm, putting him in a coma, and murder his wife. Storm wakes up seven years later, by which time he’s grown a beard, and his son is a teenager who barely recognises him. Filled with fury, Storm has a shave and then takes revenge on the mobsters who ruined his life.
The movie ends with Storm reunited with his son and new love interest Andy, played by Kelly LeBrock. Oddly, Storm still looks as angry as he ever did.
Honourable mentions: JJ McQuade (Lone Wolf McQuade), Harry Stamper (Armageddon), Tom Mullen (Ransom – excluded since it’s not technically an action film), John Creasy – Man On Fire (Denzel Washington’s angry in this film, but he’s not technically Dakota Fanning’s character’s dad).
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